Planning Board Meets on Americold; Reliability of Henshaw Data Questioned

Andrew Haines, EIMSkIP Vice President of Sales at the Workshop Last Night.

The Planning Board met for 3 l/2 hours last night to hear more testimony on  the pros and cons of the proposed cold storage facility and preliminary ideas from the city’s planning  staff for the rezoning of the largely blighted area – all considerations in whether or not to approve a height increase for a proposed cold storage facility on the western Portland waterfront.

The preliminary zoning changes are not yet committed to writing, but Caitlin Cameron, city urban designer, described them to the board in her detailed presentation.  An important consideration is to establish a “flexible regulatory approach” said Mathew Grooms, a city planner.

Planning board chair Elizabeth Boepple emphasized that the board remains far from making a decision on the height increase.  That while Bill Needleman, waterfront coordinator, urged the board to make a decision by summer since this is an urgent matter.  To which chair Boepple, said:  “We will be having another workshop” – at least.

At issue, is the request of the Economic Development Office to permit  Americold, a Georgia-based company, to build a 75 ft. high facility in an area of the waterfront that is zoned for 45 ft. high buildings.  West end residents have been demonstrative in their objection to the massiveness of the proposed three (3) acre building – concerned that this could lead to the development of a “truck hub” because of  the construction of similar sized buildings in the zone and consequently the destruction of the character of one of the entrances to Portland.

Supporters of the height increase quoted several incomplete  and unavailable reports   indicating the financial boon that such a massive structure would be to Portland.   John Henshaw, executive director of the Port Authority said that in the last few years $45M has been invested and $15M has been planned in the next several years. “This cold storage facility is key in that future growth,” he told the planning board and the SRO crowd.

A Henshaw graphic claimed that with the anticipated rate of growth, a 45 ft. building would be obsolete in about seven (7) years or so.   Maine DOT deputy commissioner Jonathan Nass said this facility is crucial to the future growth of the Port.  Bill Needleman, waterfront coordinator, who has spearheaded the height increase stated that Tom Errico, the city’s traffic consultant said that the increase in traffic would be “modest.”

During the public comment period, Tom Robertson said that Henshaw’s claim is incorrect because the graphic Henshaw used was “flawed.”    A point that planning board member David Eaton appeared wanted to pursue, but an idea that chair Boepple dismissed.  In the past, the planning board has insisted publicly that it needed justification as to why Americold needed a 75 ft. building rather than a 45 ft. building.  Pamela Shaw, a west end resident, clashed with Needleman’s  assessment when she said only off season traffic studies had been conducted and none during the peak season Portland is entering.

Tom Bell, a former business reporter for “The Portland Press Herald,” and now a contractor for EIMSKIP as its communications director on this project, said that the western waterfront has missed a “business model” since the end of World War 1.   “EIMSKIP has brought in a new business model that should be welcomed,” he said. Bell created a slick web page on the food economy on behalf of his client.

Planning Board member Lisa Whithead, who was also a strong supporter of the 58 Fore Street redevelopment by CPB2LLC,  spoke out in an uncharacteriscally forceful manner:  “There has been a visionary problem.  We are loosing people to out-of-state.  College graduates are leaving. This is an opportunity,  How do we grab it and use it?”  Board member David Eaton said:  “We’ve always looked for some kind of compromise in height.  Whose data can we rely on?”  (Do college graduates drive truck?)

New planning board member Brandon Mazer, attorney for Shipyard Brewery on Munjoy Hill, seemed less interested in the flexibility of regulation outlined by Cameron, city’ urban designer, when he objected to one of the proposed height increase restrictions in the rezoning plans described at the outset of the meeting.  (Mazer was also a candidate for the City Council in District 1 in the last election and lost to Rae.)

If District 2 City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau in whose District, the facility might be located, was present at the workshop, he was invisible.    A real estate attorney, he’s too busy playing both sides of the issue to commit himself.

The next planning board workshop could come on June 20, 2017, although that has not been confirmed.

For more information, please email Jo Coyne, at bigwhitebox@gmail.com

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